UPDATED: With Congressional Staff Reaction
PENTAGON: With an eye on a Congress it hopes will cut it some slack, the Obama Defense Department today released a budget remarkable for its apparent insouciance, trimming the base budget by only $400 million from the 2014 budget passed by Congress.
However, there is a catch. The most politically risky part of the budget will be the Opportunity, Growth, and Security Initiative, which is basically a $26.4 billion stand-alone fund designed to evade the budget cap set to avoid the caps in the Bipartisan Budget Act so the Pentagon can buy the weapons it needs and fund readiness. Congress, of course, must approve this fund for it to mean anything.
The official White House description of the fund’s defense portion is in the Office of Management and Budget’s 2015 budget Fact Sheet:
Enhance our national security by accelerating modernization of key weapons systems, accelerate progress in restoring military readiness degraded by sequestration, support nuclear R&D and infrastructure, and invests in defense facilities and construction across the country.
If you want to know how important this fund is to the procurement budget, the Pentagon budget overview notes it will be used to buy:
Two Air Force F-35s for $300 million (that’s an additional two aircraft on top of the 34 aircraft the Pentagon plans to buy, a Pentagon spokeswoman says; there are 26 in the Air Force budget)
10 C-130Js for $1.1 billion
8 Poseidon P-8As for $1.1 billion
12 Reaper drones for $200 million
28 Blackhawk helicopters for $500 million
26 Apaches for $600 million
2 Chinooks for $100 million
A congressional source familiar with the budget request was surprisingly welcoming to what some critics are calling a dead on arrival budget.
“Overall, I think it is a solid approach to dealing with declining defense spending. They are accepting some additional risk in ground force structure while trying to preserve Naval and Air structure. That is in line both with US history after land wars and the supposed priority of the ‘Asia pivot'” the source wrote in an email. “If anything they are being nice to the Army by making the Navy and Air Force take some of the cuts as well. They are also investing in SOF, cyber, and unmanned systems, all of which is hard to argue with. If critics want to keep force structure we can’t afford to train and equip, then they need to be ready to accept a dramatic decline in training/readiness, and ultimately a hollow force. DOD and the services appear to be trying to avoid a hollow force as best they can.”
As for the part of the budget known as the out years — 2016 and beyond — the aide acknowledged they are “a bit of sleight of hand, but they are being up front about it. It’s really two POMs if you take out the extra funding they assumed from (Fiscal) 16-19. It serves two purposes. First, it makes the ‘cost of sequester’ more clear in terms of force structure (Aircraft Carrier and Air Wing, KC-10s, more Army/USMC cuts),” the source said in an email. “Second, it avoids a few out-year decisions they didn’t want to make right now, probably fearing (correctly) that once they decide on those big moves they won’t get the money back.”
Perhaps the least important Quadrennial Defense Review ever was released this morning, as part of the budget drop. Pentagon officials were remarkably honest about this QDR, with acting Deputy Defense Secretary Christine Fox saying it had been crafted not with strategy first in mind but rather with the budget defining it. The law requiring a QDR, of course, mandates it be a strategic document. That was the whole idea behind its creation, but when I asked Sen. James Inhofe, ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, and Rep. Buck McKeon, outgoing chairman of the House Armed Services Committee. about this, they shrugged their shoulders. McKeon pointed to the independent QDR panel created by the Armed Services committees, making clear that the Pentagon’s effort was pretty much irrelevant.